If cars racing into space or LeBron James taking on Elmer Fudd in basketball ain’t your thing, this weekend there is now Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move to consider.
Set in 1954 Detroit, the Warner Bros. film centers on a group of small-time criminals who are hired to steal what they think is a simple document. When their plan goes horribly wrong, their search for who hired them – and for what ultimate purpose – weaves them through all echelons of the race-torn, rapidly changing city.
The film stars Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, with Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig muMs Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw, and Bill Duke.
Curt Goynes (Cheadle) is down on his luck. Recently released from prison, Curt is dogged by a missing “codebook” and his questionable history in the underbelly of Detroit’s African-American crime syndicate.
Approached by a shady go-between known only as Jones (Fraser) to do a babysitting job on the family of a low-level auto executive, Matt Wertz (Harbour), Curt sees an opportunity to climb out of the hole he’s in. But it’s not that simple.
Turns out, it’s a three-man job as Jones recruits two more petty criminals, Ronald Russo (Del Toro) and Charley Barnes (Culkin) to sit with Matt’s wife, Mary (Seimetz), and two kids (Jupe, Holt) in their middle-class neighborhood while Matt plays the unlucky pawn for Jones’s mysterious boss. Watch the trailer below:
Dressing for 1950’s Midwest Success
One of the standouts of the film is the detail of the film’s period fashion. That can be attributed to Costume Designer Marci Rodgers.
Film production is something like a Rubik’s Cube. Many different sides that interact with each other under the command of a director, who is working to solve the enigma of successful storytelling. Each component is dependent on all the others. That’s how Rodgers sees it.
“I’m one side,” Rodgers says, “another is production design, another acting, and another music. And there’s this person at the top making it all fit together.
“Costume design has a very symbiotic relationship with production design. Hannah Beachler and I had a lot of conversations early on about the world she was creating. We talked about color palettes and patterns and we shared our research with each other.”
Rodgers’ research led her down some interesting paths. It’s not much of a stretch to thank Hugh Hefner for his contribution to the look of No Sudden Move, because, in addition to more traditional research, Rodgers spent a lot of time thumbing through old Playboy magazines.
“I spent two days at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in their fashion library,” Rodgers explains, “looking at every book from the `50s I could get my hands on, including fabric books. I watched a lot of period movies. I also went down to John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit and purchased as many Playboy and Life magazines from the `50s I could find. It was Playboy, for the most part, though, that really helped.”
Rodgers also found a lot of vintage Detroit regional magazines at John K. King that informed her take on local fashion. And local fashion was very important for Rodgers to get right. In fact, the design for Vanessa’s tennis outfit at the beginning of the film was directly influenced by a spread in a Detroit magazine about women in tennis.
“I look in the mirror, and I just want to speak differently,” remarks Fox. “So much went into being a woman in the 1950s, being this perfect little trophy ornament. The clothes are kind of uncomfortable, but it wasn’t a woman’s role to be comfortable. She’s supposed to make her man feel comfortable by looking her best all the time, even when she’s peeling potatoes.”
Rodgers was adamant for that period authenticity to translate directly to her designs.
“You can easily research 1950s fashion nationwide,” Rodgers says, “but I wanted to know what it looked like in Detroit.”
Rodgers’ exploration of 1950s Detroit brought her together with award-winning writer, historian and cultural luminary, Marsha Music. Music’s father, legendary music producer Joe Von Battle, owned a record store on Hastings Streets and later moved it to 12th Street following the I- 375 “urban renewal” project that wiped out the prosperous business center of Detroit’s Black community.
Music opened up to Rodgers, going so far as to share a family photo album from the 1950s that her aunt made for her. In one of the photos, Von Battle stands together with Aretha Franklin’s father, snapped moments after Franklin finished recording her first album. Rodgers based her costume for Jimmy on that image.
“It was like I had come across a pot of gold,” Rodgers shares giddily.
Rodgers grew up in Chicago and understands the Midwest sensibility, so she was able to quickly grasp the nuances of local, mid-century style.
“We’re not flashy in the Midwest,” she noted. “There was a lot of wealth in Detroit at that time, but it didn’t necessarily translate into the clothes the way it did in other parts of the country.” Being a period movie, it’s not possible to run down to the local big-box store or the mall and pick up costuming in duplicate like you can potentially do for a contemporary film. Rodgers’ vision went from research to rendering.
She drew all the principal cast and painted them in watercolor and compiled fabric swatches to match. From there, she went into fabrication.
“I built most of the principal cast costumes,” she says. “Even if you find something magnificent from the era, you still need multiples of the same costume for any variety of reasons.
So, for the most part, I had to create them.” Rodgers got lucky, however, when she found Nikki Neuzil’s Flamingo Vintage clothing store in Detroit’s Mexicantown. Not only was she able to source impeccable period-specific wardrobe from Neuzil, but she learned a lot about `50s Detroit fashion from her as well.
“She has amazing style,” Rodgers says of Neuzil. “It was a blessing to find her shop. Her clothes are pristine, perfect. The quality is impressive, right down to the hats. I was able to find some flawless women’s hats from Nikki.”
One of the most significant moments in No Sudden Move that Rodgers wanted to get right was when Mary Wertz comes downstairs to find the intruders. The transition from her peaceful yet mundane life is evident in the confusion on her face when she takes in these three different men, the disruption and threat that they pose.
“I wanted her to see three different worlds,” Rodgers says. “I wanted her to see Black Bottom with Curt. I wanted her to see the Italian underworld with Ronald, and the seedy desperation and anxiety of Charley, to convey all that through their looks.”
It was also a thoughtful choice to put Mary in a robe. If we were to see into the Atkinson house at the same time of morning, we’d find Dawn and her daughter already immaculately dressed in matching outfits before wandering down to breakfast, but Mary’s life is on the edge of disarray. She’s barely keeping it together.
When she drifts down to fulfill her wifely and motherly duties, it’s not with pride but with disillusionment. She doesn’t care what she looks like. She’s given up on impressing her family or keeping up appearances, and so, of course, she throws on a robe, half-dressed.
“Having her in that robe when she comes down,” Rodgers says, “shows her vulnerability when she encounters these three men. They’re dressed and she is not. She’s exposed.”
Another moment that was important was seeing Watkins for the first time.
“He’s a quiet person,” Bill Duke says about his character. “He doesn’t shout or show anger. If he doesn’t want you alive any longer, he doesn’t have to speak, just make a subtle motion. That’s the kind of power he has.”
Rodgers wanted to convey that power visually, to elevate Watkins the moment you lay eyes on him. Drawing on her childhood memory of images in her parent’s photo albums, Rodgers envisioned Watkins wearing a Stetson hat and fur around his collar. As the one man who can crush Curt or set him free, Watkins had to immediately express sovereignty; he is the king of the streets.
“His crown is his Stetson,” she explains, “His regalia is his coat with the fur. That is distinguishable. He doesn’t have to say anything. He knows he’s flashy, and he’s the only one.” “I love the way the writer designed this character,” Duke says. “You hear about him, he’s in the whole movie, but you don’t see him till the end. He doesn’t really talk a lot, and I love that, because if you have that kind of power, you don’t have to say very much. When he’s finally revealed, you see who Watkins is, and you know what he can do.”
No Sudden Move debuted on HBO Max yesterday, July 1, 2021.